Both Dubrovnik and Budapest are fantastic cities, but which is better for your city-break or holiday?
We understand your dilemma. There is a wealth of information about both cities, but little stating which is the better destination and more suited for your trip.
This website will provide our unbiased opinions of Budapest and Dubrovnik, and hopefully help you to choose the best city to visit. The article is divided into the following sections, and can be jumped to using the underlined links:
1) Introductions -
2) City scores -
3) Which one should I, friends, or family visit? -
4) When to visit and weather -
5) Who is the city suited for? -
6) The perfect 48hours (with map) -
7) Tourism details (where to stay? airport details?)
Prepare to be wowed by the sheer audacity of Dubrovnik. A castle on the Adriatic, the whole town is ringed by glowing limestone battlements, topped with keeps and turrets, and crowned by Byzantine basilicas.
Straddling the snaking Danube in the very heart of Europe is Budapest, the buzzing capital of Hungary. The largest city in the country, it's split into Buda (in the west) and Pest (in the east). They're joined by grand 19th-century chain bridges to form a continuous metropolis that's home to more than 1.7 million people.
Budapest magnetizes visitors with a mixture of rich history, bold architectural sites, café culture, urban spas and vibrant nightlife. Look one way and you'll see the elaborate Habsburg-era palaces that crown Buda Hill.
Look another and you find steaming bathhouses smelling of sulphur. And that's not even mentioning the heady ruin bars, the colossal Dohány Street Synagogue, and the wide boulevards left over from Communist times.
Which city would I go to? Dubrovnik
Which one would I recommend to my parents? Dubrovnik
Which location for my 19-year-old cousin? Budapest
Which for my food obsessed friend? Dubrovnik
Note: The above comparison does not consider the weather, and assumes travel at the best time of year (which is detailed later in this article)
The following sections compare the two cities and considers; how long to spend in them, when to visit, and provides suggested 48hours in each city (along with an interactive map). The final section is tourism practicalities and includes which airport to fly into, what district to be based in and how best to explore the city. We hope that you find all of this information useful, in planning your next exciting trip.
Fly-in visits for three days are enough to check off the major must-see sights of Budapest. This is a compact capital with good underground and bus links. You can get easily get across town – going from Buda Castle on one side of the city all the way to the Széchenyi Thermal Baths at the other takes less than an hour on public transport.
That said, Budapest has plenty of hidden secrets up its sleeve. You could easily while away a whole week enjoying cheap happy hours in the ruin bars, bathing in the Art Deco spas, and visiting islands up the Danube. If you're coming in summer, you could also extend a stay to include the art galleries and cobbled lanes of Szentendre, the mineral-rich waters of Lake Balaton, and the rustic Tokaj wine country to the east.
Choosing how long to spend in Dubrovnik really depends on what you want out of your city break. A fly-in whirlwind tour of the Old Town can be great if you're on the hunt for culture and history. The museum collections of the Sponza Palace and the Rector's House, walking routes of the City Walls, and sightings of landmarks like Large Onofrio Fountain can all be packed into just a day or two.
But it might be best to allow a little extra time. With all the castles and churches here, it's easy to forget that Dubrovnik is an Adriatic riviera destination at heart. You've got pine forests, olive groves, rakija distilleries and the lost-paradise island of Mljet to think about. You certainly won't want to rush those during the warmer months, so consider staying a week or more to explore the city itself and those stunning surroundings.
Summer might seem like the perfect time to put together a trip to Croatia's castle city. However, temperature highs in the low 30s and strong midday sun can make things a little tiring. And that's not even mentioning the whopping great big crowds. Recent protests by Dubrovnik's locals have really highlighted the problem of summertime tourism – there's hardly an inch to move in the Old Town, especially when huge cruise ships are docked at port.
Things might improve thanks to recent laws barring any more than two large vessels per day, but we still think September and October come up trumps. This southern corner of the Balkans stays pleasantly warm well into the autumn, so you shouldn't have to worry about having the weather to laze on Lapad Beach. What's more, visitor numbers, hotel rates, and flight prices all plummet following the end of the summer vacations.
Late spring and early autumn are when locals often say Budapest is at its best. Temperatures average around 23-25 degrees in May and September. There's not an overload of rain then either. And it's perfect for avoiding the crowds of midsummer city breakers that come during the European holidays.
There's also something to be said for visiting Budapest in the midst of winter. Mercury plummets between November and March, and it's not uncommon to see the Danube freeze over with huge chunks of ice. What's more, the tenements and side streets of the Jewish Quarter and the historic Inner City areas ooze atmosphere on cold, snowy days. Just be sure to pack the thermals!
Budapest's layers of history combine with a sleepless nightlife scene, making this European capital a great pick for a whole host of travellers. The backpacking crowd can make for the Jewish Quarter's ruin bars and glug uber-cheap Hungarian beers in bohemian courtyards.
More culturally aligned visitors might prefer to unearth the past of the Hungarian empire on the grounds of Buda Castle, or pay their respects at the haunting House of Terror museum that chronicles the dark days of Stasi rule.
You might not feel totally at home here if you're a big fan of beaches and sun. Budapest is a landlocked city in a landlocked country, so the ocean is never near. Hungary's capital isn't the greenest of towns, either. There are parks, but they're really on the outskirts. It's very much an urban destination.
If you're one for enthralling tales of warring republics and battles with the Ottomans, Dubrovnik has you covered. If you're the sort who loves jaw-dropping European old towns with enough castles and churches and cobbled alleys to keep you going for a whole trip, it's also perfect. Oh, and Dubrovnik takes care of globetrotters who come in search of a little Mediterranean sand, sun and sea. You won't have to venture far to find a cove to swim in, a yacht charter, or even a remote island villa where you can crank up the R&R.
If you're not big on crowds, then summer trips (as noted above) to Dubrovnik are surely best avoided. And it's hardly the place for anyone in search of big-metropolis vibes a la Berlin or Amsterdam. For a city, Dubrovnik is relatively small and compact.
48hours in Budapest
Day 1: Start on the Pest side of the city. That's home to the huge Dohány Street Synagogue. It's one of the great landmarks of Budapest and reigns as the largest synagogue in Europe. From there, head to the wide boulevard of Andrássy, a spectacular thoroughfare and UNESCO site that's lined with Neo-Classical mansions.
Visit the House of Terror museum on one end to unravel the haunting past of Communist rule in Hungary. Then, go for a hard-earned spa session in the famous Art Deco baths of Széchenyi. Dinner can be nothing less than a paprika-smoked goulash in Gettó Gulyás, followed by a beer in the mind-boggling art gallery come bar that is Szimpla Kert.
Day 2: Breakfast in the Central Market Hall that dates from 1897. Grab some sweet Hungarian pastries and then hop across the Danube on the handsome Liberty Bridge. In front of you, the elegant Gellért Baths are an optional stop. Or, push on up to the Fisherman's Bastion and the Citadella. These were once defensive outposts where Hungarian armies protected their capital. These days, they have stunning views of the Danube. A walk to the north takes you to the Castle District. You can tour the grounds and take in the architecture, or go inside for regal court rooms. Be sure to take some photos of the imposing Hungarian Parliament Building across the water. Finally, drop back into Pest for dinner in the Inner City. That area has everything from Tex-Mex joints to smoky 1930s speakeasies.
48hours in Dubrovnik
Hopping from crenulated towers overlooking the Adriatic Sea to hidden local swimming spots to soaring summits in the Dinaric Alps, this fun-filled 48 hours could just be the perfect introduction to this awesome city:
Day 1: Start – where else? – on buzzy Stradun. The main artery of the Old Town of Dubrovnik, it runs from the port to Pile Gate (a 16th-century stone gatehouse that's worth a photo stop), passing Irish pubs, coffee joints, and Croatian konoba (taverns) as it goes. Sip a cappuccino and devour a pastry there before making for the Large Onofrio Fountain.
An elaborate water feature that's stood since the 1430s, it still dispenses crystal-clear water for drinking. Fill the bottle and then move to the iconic City Walls. These can be traversed entirely.
Day 2: Kick start the day with a dip in the Med at Banje Beach. This is the closest beach to the Old Town of Dubrovnik and has a free section where you can take a quick swim while gawping at the high fortresses overhead.
Cafés and gelato shops line Frana Supila just above it, where you can grab a bite for breakfast before making for the base station of the Dubrovnik Cable Car – it's less than 500 metres away. Tickets might cost 170 HRK (€22) apiece, but the sweeping 180-degree views from the top station of Mountain Srd are simply awesome. You'll be able to see the red-tiled roofs of the Old Town below, the wooded crags of Lokrum Island, and the remote Elaphiti Islands (perfect day outings by boat if you have some more time to spare) beyond.
Return to ground level and then hop on a bus going over to the Lapad Peninsula. This is great for the evening. A quick splash in the sea can be followed by uber-fresh seafood dinners with crisp Croatian wine in the traditional taverns just by the bay.
Dubrovnik is a super walkable city. In fact, getting lost in the Old Town area is one of the best things to do here. Don't go thinking you can use the City Walls to navigate. The ticket for those costs 200 HRK (€29) and is only valid for a single entry.
To get back and forth from districts around the Old Town and the beaches of Lapad and beyond, there's an efficient local bus network. Virtually all routes will either take you to the historic heart of Dubrovnik or terminate at the main Kantafig station. You can purchase fares onboard for 15 HRK but they're a little cheaper if bought from a kiosk in advance.
Try to seek out a place to stay as close to the Old Town as you can if you're coming to see the history sights and enjoy the walking tours. Remember that the district is super compact, so boutique B&Bs with cosy rooms are the name of the game within its boundaries. For extra space and proximity to the Adriatic Sea, you could look to the larger hotels and guesthouses around Banje Beach or Gruz to the north.
Talking of the airport, Budapest Airport sits around 22 kilometers from the city center. You can get to and from the terminals using the dedicated express bus (€2) or by train (€2.70). Both options take between 30-40 minutes. Be sure to buy tickets at machines by the stops – they're more expensive when purchased direct from drivers.
When it comes to picking hotels in Budapest, you're best off focussing on the Pest side of the city. That's where the bulk of the best lodgings are located. Being in the Jewish Quarter can be noisy, but perfect if you want to hit the nightlife of Szimpla and the other ruin bars. The Inner City area is charming and quieter, with some boutique options. Meanwhile, Újlipótváros is a local's favourite, with its cool cafés and art galleries and sleek Airbnbs.
Budapest is largely safe and crime statistics are in line with European norms. Some well-known scams include taxi drivers who overcharge and sellers of fake goods. Pickpocketing is also a rare but real problem. Just be aware of your personal possessions and be vigilante, especially when on public transportation.
Price wise, Budapest is surely up there with the cheapest of European capitals. A large beer can cost as little as 500 HUF (€1.50). Food in a midrange restaurant will set you back between 2,000 HUF and 3,000 HUF (€6-9). Nights in hotels are noticeably less than in nearby Vienna, too.